HC Deb 16 January 1979 vol 960 cc1487-9
17. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the latest position regarding the supply of Harrier jet aircraft to China.

Mr. Mulley

The Government are ready to enter into negotiations for the sale of the Harrier aircraft to China as part of a balanced trade relationship.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Secretary of State aware that the House will welcome the Government's decision to allow the sale of the Harrier to China? Does his reply mean that the sale is to be dependent on the Chinese agreeing to buy from us a certain quantity of civilian goods as well, and, if so, is that wise?

Mr. Mulley

The decision is that negotiations should begin between British Aerospace and the Chinese Government. The final decision will depend on the outcome of those negotiations. It is right that our trading relationship with China should not be simply as a seller of arms, but should be part of a much wider relationship, and that is the policy which the Government seek to pursue.

Mr. Jay

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the decision on the sale of Harriers will be determined by British needs and not by threats from the Soviet Union?

Mr. Mulley

I can assure my right hon. Friend that we shall take the decision in the best interests, as we see them, of our nation and will not be influenced one way or the other by outside interests.

Mr. Adley

Does not the Secretary of State understand that the method that the Government have chosen to follow in this matter is more appropriate to a Middle Eastern suq than the best way of doing business with the Chinese? Does he not understand that he is far more likely to get the trade that he and the whole House seek if he makes a clear decision and completes negotiations over the sale of the Harriers first? We shall then find that other trade will follow.

Mr. Mulley

I have already suggested to the hon. Gentleman that his choice of language is sometimes not helpful to his case and he has just given us another example of that. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in the Harrier, but he ought to know that a number of trade missions from China have visited this country to look at a wide range of civil, as well as military, projects. Our firms and industries are in close touch with the Chinese Government and are negotiating over a whole range of matters. It is right that these things should go along together.

Mr. Flannery

Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to the fact that the new leadership of China includes the people who opposed the Maoist approach to the Soviet Union and that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the new leadership may move towards a new rapprochement with the Soviet Union? The Conservative Party and some members of the Government Front Bench could get a great surprise in the next year or two when that development occurs, as it undoubtedly will. Mr. Mulley: I cannot follow my hon. Friend, because I cannot predict the future with the assurance that he appears able to command.